In this paper, we examine firms' use of the Internet to enhance the relevance of their financial reporting. We define a firm as practicing Internet Financial Reporting (IFR) when it provides in its web site either (1) a comprehensive set of financial statements (including footnotes and the auditors' report), (2) a link to its annual report elsewhere on the Internet or (3) a link to the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission's (SEC) Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) system. While 70 percent of the firms in our sample engage in IFR, we find substantial variation in the quality of firms' IFR practices. Specifically, the variations in quality pertain to the timeliness and therefore, the usefulness of firms' financial reporting on the Internet. We find that some firms provide more timely financial disclosures via the Internet (e.g., monthly sales) while other firms report outdated financial data (e.g., two‐year old annual reports). We also observe that the usefulness of firms' financial reporting on the Internet depends on how easy it is to access that data, the amount of data disclosed and/or whether users can download or analyze the data.
To substantiate firms' incentives for engaging in IFR, we sent surveys to firms with web sites in our sample and asked them to report their perceived costs and benefits related to establishing an Internet presence. Firms responded to our questions about why they established an Internet presence by indicating that they perceive their web sites to be an important vehicle to disseminate information to shareholders. After documenting how and why firms use the Internet to voluntarily disclose financial information, we develop the implications of such practices for consumers who demand financial information, firms that supply financial data, auditors and market regulators.